Groucho Marx: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know”
The term “misplaced modifier” means that the descriptor in the sentence is in the wrong place. Sometimes, these can be quite humorous, even though the writer/speaker may not have intended them to be. In the example above, the placement of the words “in my pajamas” is incorrect.
Take a look at these statements with misplaced modifiers and see how easy it is to misinterpret them:
“I’ve been driving this truck with a broken heart.”
(The poor truck! Is that covered under manufacturer’s warranty? Or is the driver operating the vehicle with the broken heart, instead of her/his hands and feet?)
“It only cost $10.”
(In this example, “only” seems to be describing “cost,” but really should be describing $10. The misplaced modifier interrupts the subject connection with the verb.)
“Speaking of names, I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith.”
(What’s the name of his other leg? This line was used in the film Mary Poppins.)
There are some great examples of misplaced modifiers in the images at the bottom of this email. Can you see how these can be misunderstood because of the (mis)placement of words?
This information is from our Business Writing curriculum. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes.